Talk about a December surprise. News is being poured, or leaked, out of the New York Times Company with unexpected near-Christmas volume. Today’s news that the Times Company is finally selling its New York Times Regional Newspaper Group holdings of 14 newspapers absolutely fits with the last week’s news of CEO Janet Robinson’s abrupt departure.
The New York Times is slimming down to bulk up. It is no longer a newspaper company, with a strong national newspaper, a Boston cousin in the Globe and regional newspaper interests. It is a global news company whose future is mostly digital, and it will live or die on that adventure. It is a company that now sees 63% of its revenues (last from the third quarter) coming from the Times print and digital operations. Over the past several years, the Times — despite its many trials (selling its flagship building, participating in Carlos Slim usury, before paying back the 14% $250 million loan to the Mexican magnate) — has outperformed financially both the regional group and the Globe .
That only makes sense. Borrowing lessons from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and many others, the global Times is about scale. You can pay a Times reporter to write a story that can reach some of the Times ‘ 50 million global monthly unique visitors, three-fifths of them in the U.S. Or you can pay a Gainesville or Tuscaloosa reporter a little less to write a story that can reach a hundreth of that total. Do the math, and the future bet is on the company with the big global news brand and the reach.
The regional news companies, important as they are to their communities, have been but a business distraction. The Times has tried to sell them before, pulling back as market conditions forced it to do. Now Halifax Media Group seems set to complete its deal, which we’d have to believe is in final form given its inclusion of the NYTRNG papers on its website (courtesy of Romenesko), now taken down. Halifax is part of new generation of newspaper property buyers, believing they can make a go of these distressed properties, through more consolidation of jobs and other efficiencies. (“Now at Fire Sale Prices, a Few Newspapers…and Maybe More,” Newsonomics, Dec. 2, 2011)
For the Times now, and going forward, the competition is CNN, the BBC, News Corp, ABC, NBC, the Guardian, Bloomberg, Reuters and several others. Who indeed will be among the most trusted names in the (digital) news business?
The spasms of change at the Times come ironically after one of the most relatively successful years for the company. Yes, profits are still tough to come by — a measly $33 million in the last quarter — but the company pulled off a digital pay scheme that has established a modest beachhead. It begins to provide the Times a second digital revenue stream, in addition to advertising. Circulation revenues grew 3.4% for the last period, as the Times’ new digital All-Access push circulation had netted 324,000 “digital” subscribers of one kind or another and enabled the first Sunday home delivery print increase since 2006. It has positioned itself well with apps for emerging tablet and smartphone platforms, moving quickly into the Apple Newsstand, for instance. It is aiming for ubiquity and is in the lead of the newspaper pack, with the Journal nipping and biting along the way.
Yet, ominously, print advertising revenues decreased 10.4 percent and digital advertising revenues decreased 4.5 percent in the last quarter. 2012 looks like another down year, in high single digits. In fact, there’s an array of numbers that offer a quite uneven path to success next year, as I described in the Newsonomics of 2012′s Magic Formula, last week.
Consequently, the company is barely keeping even, and will likely have to accelerate cuts next year to stay profitable. So the plow must be sped. With less than a quarter of its revenues now driven by digital, the Times has to move quicker. It may balance (smartly as its done with its Sunday print/digital pricing) package print and digital, but it is has to grab mind share and market share in all the emerging digital spaces, tablet, smartphone, connected TV and web.
Expect the new CEO, most likely from the outside to be focused on three A’s: audience, advertising and analytics. Arrange those three in a virtuous circle, and you have an efficient spinning of the new digital economy. That’s clearly what Time Inc has in mind as it hired Laura Lang from the ad world.
The new CEO must also drive a faster kind of decision-making at the Times Company, a company now seeing both CEO Robinson and digital head Martin Nisenholtz leaving at the same time, the latter by retirement. Famously balkanized, with numerous power centers, the company has been both innovative and plodding. That’s an odd combo, but one fitting its prudent-above-all news culture. With one distraction removed (and now we wonder about the Boston Globe, its own pay scheme innovation underway, and how long it will remain a Times Company property), the new CEO aces a tough terrain. Given that the company, even post NYTRNG sale, is 90%+ newspaper-based, it suffers in its ability to grow. News Corp, CNN, Reuters and Bloomberg all are part of large, diversified companies that can buffer them from the permanent print ad downturn. As Janet Robinson found, the path forward is an extremely narrow one.
Filmmaker Peter Weir, talking about his career and his newly released “The Way Back,” a tale of survival.
“Really as a filmmaker you spend all your life working on simplification. That’s what you aim for if you’re lucky enough to have a long career.”
Well-said, and applies to those crafting the future of news as well.
Sep 9, 2010
“Journalism today embodies a whole range of styles, some with more point of view and some with less, and while clear labeling of what’s what is a good goal, it’s not realistic to think that there can be some kind of calorie counter measuring the amount of opinion in a given piece”. Bay Citizen’s Jonathan Weber explains the ins and outs of working as a New York Times bureau, nailing some of the difficulties of marrying old and new journalism as the Times reaches beyond its old comfort zone.
Apr 13, 2010
“Apple is trying to turn the PC into an appliance they control from bottom (the processor) to top (apps and content). Instead of just selling you a PC and never hearing from you again, they sell you an iPad and have an ongoing revenue stream from you forever. The question is whether people will trade freedom for convenience. I think they will. They have before.” — Daniel Lyons, tech editor at Newsweek.
Agreed. Though…..what we may see developing here is a different hierarchy of usage. One, as Lyons describes, fairly hierarchical, orderly and tailored — with the option (through Safari browser or by other means) to go off and explore the wild side of the open web. The two may co-exist, just in ways they haven’t before.
Feb 11, 2010
John Wilpers is, literally, a world-class news blog expert. He specializes in seeking, vetting and delivering high-quality blogs, as well as the best local or global bloggers writing about specific geographic or thematic subjects for print and online clients. Those clients have included the LA Times, Christian Science Monitor, GlobalPost.com, Miami Herald, and the San Diego Union-Tribune. In his 38 years in journalism, John has run an international newspaper group, started more free dailies than any U.S. editor, launched numerous city sites for AOL, and been a reporter and editor at small weeklies, major metro dailies, and magazines.
- Do you mind being called a blog wrangler, and if not, what exactly does a blog wrangler do? Actually, I do not see myself as a blog wrangler because “wrangling” implies the use of force to get dumb animals to go in a direction they might otherwise (and wisely) not choose. I consider myself a blog matchmaker: I match the needs of information companies (newspapers, magazines, online-only news sites) for ever broader, more relevant, and deeper content with the needs of bloggers for exposure, broader platforms, enhanced credibility, and increased revenue opportunities. There are blog wranglers out there cramming websites full of blogs without regard for the benefit of the company or the blogger, creating blogger ghettos distinguished only by the fact that the content is created by non-staffers.
• What’s different about the Pro-Am space than you thought two years ago? Two years ago, few editors and publishers were open to, never mind enthusiastic about, integrating high-quality bloggers in their online and print publications. But significant circulation and staff erosion has convinced editors that 1) they must do something to stem the reader flight, and 2) the answer is not to be found exclusively in their diminished newsrooms. Today, more editors finally accept that to be relevant to readers with passionate interests in a bevy of both traditional and non-traditional information verticals, they must rely on outside creators of content. If they don’t, topic-specific bloggers and websites will steal their audiences, dooming newspapers to death by a thousand cuts. In the very near future, newspapers and magazines must become information companies that both create AND curate the very best content about everything in their geographic and/or thematic niche(s).
• With all the fuss about the Demand Media/Examiner models, how do you explain what you do to the bloggers you work with? Both Demand Media and the Examiners are large-scale operations with a very different agenda than my tailored efforts to match the very best bloggers in a niche with a prestigious information company looking to enhance their presence in that niche. While the Examiners and Demand Media allow anyone to apply, I hand-pick the bloggers my newspaper, website, and magazine clients wish to invite to become partners. I tell the bloggers I approach that they have been selected only after an exhaustive search and only because they are experts in their field and because they write exquisitely. I also tell them that we think we are offering a symbiotic relationship. That said, Demand Media and the Examiners do offer very modest compensation whereas my clients do not. We do, however, make it clear to the bloggers we approach that they are free to end the relationship whenever they think it’s fulfilled its purpose from their point of view.
• You’ve developed a worldwide touch with finding bloggers. Have you noticed any significant differences continent-by-continent, country-by-country, or is the web one big neighborhood? Bloggers worldwide have more in common than they have geographic differences, but there are unique characteristics. Continentally, the African and South American blogospheres are much smaller but are growing. And there are national differences: The Germans, French and Brazilians prefer to write in their native language compared to the great number of bloggers in other countries writing in English. Some countries (England, Venezuela, Pakistan) seem to have more political blogs than others and, of course, there are some countries where bloggers feel they must write anonymously (Middle Eastern countries, some African and South American countries, Indonesia, Pakistan). And in Vietnam, bloggers cannot write about politics at all. But by and large, the web is one big neighborhood in the sense that the vast majority of bloggers are very focused on and dedicated to a single topic. They write, not for fortune, but to increase awareness of themselves and their world, be it politics, music, astronomy, medicine, rugby, a particular charity, etc. When I approach them in a manner that indicates I have not only deeply read and come to appreciate their work but I also bring an invitation that I believe is in their best interests, they almost always agree to participate, Yes, there are bloggers looking to make money, but they are, for now, a small minority. And even some of them still see a benefit in partnering with a major media organization.
You can contact John at:
Feb 9, 2010
Barry Graubart is a guru of smart, company use of social tools, in addition to serving as Vice President, Product Strategy & Business Development at Alacra. He recently participated in an SIIA seminar I led around Law #1: “We’re Becoming Our Own and Each Other’s Editors.”
His thinking impressed the breakfast group and he followed up with 13 suggestions, which we’re sharing more broadly.
Twitter is about sharing. It’s not designed to say “look at me”.
My philosophy is that the best compliment we could get would not be “I follow @abc because they are cool” but rather “I follow @abc because they always share cool things”.
1. Have something relevant to share
2. A huge part of Alacra’s value proposition comes from curation – we help our users find business critical information they might otherwise miss; Twitter can be an extension of this – on Twitter, we can provide links to critical information they might otherwise miss.
3. Twitter brings serendipity: one of the great benefits of Twitter is that it brings the user information they might never have thought to look for. While you don’t want your tweets to be random, they also shouldn’t be completely predictable. One person I follow is @pkedrosky. He tweets largely about financial matters, but will occasionally provide links to information on unusual weather patterns. You don’t want to appear random, but it’s OK if 10% of your tweets are not specific to your business.
4. Don’t be (too) self-serving. If all you do is tweet links to our own content (or worse, to pages where we are selling our own content), then your followers will quickly drop off as you don’t provide much usable value. Make sure that you RT relevant tweets of others.
5. Read & respond (where appropriate) promptly to any @ responses that we get. It’s a conversation, not a broadcast. If someone responds with a useful comment, RT that.
6. Create an attractive and useful profile page. If you have little info (URL, photo, bio) on your profile page, most people won’t follow you back.
7. Keep your following-to-followers ratio attractive. Ideally, you want 2-3x as many followers (or more) as you are following. The reverse makes you look like a spammer.
A few tactical suggestions:
8. Make sure your tweets are “re-tweetable”. My user name is @graubart. So, to ensure my tweets are re-tweetable (is that a word?), I need to keep them to no more than 126 characters, leaving 14 characters available for RT @graubart:
9. When you RT, feel free to add your own comment – but make sure it’s clear that it’s your comment, not the author. For example, if I wanted to retweet a tweet by @DickBoveSays “Citigroup is already dead… But Citicorp is not Citigroup and Citicorp is not too big to fail. $C http://bit.ly/3H7AaR” I might add a comment like:
Good point RT @dickbovesays: Citigroup is already dead. But Citicorp is not Citigroup + Citicorp is not 2 big to fail. $C http://bit.ly/3H7AaR
10. Use hashtags – both to tag your content and also as a short, one-word commentary. For example, if I wanted to RT someone and note that the made some brilliant insights, I could simply put #brilliant before the RT – adding my opinion in only 10 characters.
11. Tag company-specific posts for StockTwits. Make sure you follow StockTwits (it will follow you back) and use the $ticker tags for any listed company-specific tweets.
12. Use bit.ly as your shortener and make sure you create a bit.ly account. This will allow you to track click-throughs from your tweets and RTs.
13. Tweets should come out throughout the day. I’ve seen some publishers (and people) who send a batch of tweets every day at a given time, then are silent until the next day. That’s a dumb approach. First, if your followers are not dipping into the Twitter stream at that time, then they’ll miss them. Also, it makes you appear to be either automated or someone who doesn’t “get” that Twitter is a conversation. If you must post your tweets as a batch use one of the tools that allow you to schedule tweets such as TweetLater.
Follow Barry at his blog: http://www.contentmatters.info/
and on Twitter: Graubart.
Feb 6, 2010
Q: The Sports Illustrated tablet demo has now been viewed more than a 600,000 times on YouTube alone. What do you think about it?
A: What’s interesting is not about the tablet, per se. It’s about multi-touch interfaces. which are fast becoming standard. The interaction in the demo is nifty, but not necessarily unique to SI (or even particularly futuristic at this point). In a sense, this is really just another web page…just a few months ahead of its time. Maybe even less.
I do think it’s cute that the SI demo still places such emphasis on written articles. The combination of tablet form factors + touchscreen interfaces will force SI (and magazines in general) to become much more video-centric — at which point they will be functionally indistinguishable from TV brands, like ESPN’s SportsCenter.
For that matter, news brands (newspapers, local TV, cable nets, etc.) will also be serving up large helpings of video — with content updates approaching near-real time. These brands also cover sports. In such a world, SI will be hard-pressed to justify its existence if it’s still an article-centric weekly — tablet or no tablet.
*Tim Perlstein is a Director of Strategy at digital agency Razorfish. (Of course, his comments represent his personal views, and not necessarily those of Razorfish or its clients.)